Tommy John Surgery Essay

This essay has a total of 1193 words and 6 pages.

Tommy John Surgery

Baseball players and fans call it Tommy John surgery, after the pitcher who was the first
to have the surgery 29 years ago. By any designation, it is one of the major advancements
in sports medicine in the last quarter century. Technically it is a ulnar collateral
ligament replacements procedure.

Pitching overhand is a particularly stressful motion; the strain it puts on a player's
joint is commonly injurious. Pitchers such as Kerry Wood, Matt Morris, John Smoltz,
Mariano Rivera, Tom Gordon, and Eric Gagne all have a four inch scar on their pitching
arms as evidence of this career saving surgery.

These players typically perform as well, if not better, after the operation and have
stronger arms, with radar gun readings to match. "It felt so good when I came back, I said
I recommend it to everybody ... regardless what your ligament looks like," Chicago White
Sox reliever Billy Koch says jokingly. He blew out his elbow in his third professional
appearance, in 1997. A torn elbow ligament once was a pitcher's sentence to the broadcast
booth or the monthly autograph show at the local Holiday Inn. No longer.

Tommy John surgery--technically an ulnar collateral ligament replacement procedure--has
saved the careers of hundreds of Major League players. It may one day make the Hall of
Fame case for its inventor, surgeon Frank Jobe (who was Hollywood enough to trademark the
name "Tommy John procedure"). Thirty years after Jobe invented this surgery, baseball
players are still using it.

The elbow is a hinge joint, moving in only one dimension (flex or extend), making it
relatively simple from an architectural and functional standpoint. The humerus bone in the
upper arm connects to the two bones of the forearm by means of various connective tissues.
For a pitcher, one of the most important of these connections is the unlar collaterial
ligament (UCL). The UCL offers much of the stability that is necessary for the elbow to
withstand the extreme stresses created by throwing a baseball at high velocity. Its
function is to stabilize against lateral forces and to keep the arm connected across the
joint space.

Sometimes the UCL will weaken and stretch (technically a sprain), making it incompetent.
Other times a catastrophic stress will cause the structure to "pop" or blow out. The
injury isn't tremendously painful, and it can be incredibly difficult to diagnose without
sophisticated imaging (such as an MRI), but incompetent or blown out, a damaged UCL will
prevent a player from throwing at full velocity or with effective control.

Prior to 1974 it is unknown how many pitchers career's may have been saved from this
surgery. But today we do know that out of 700 pitchers in the major leagues 75 of them are
Tommy John surgery patients. Many believe that Sandy Kofax's "dead arm" may have been
surgically repaired by this procedure.

Crudely described, what Jobe did was build John a new ligament. Since no artificial tissue
can fully approximate the function of the body's own connective tissues, and since the
body doesn't have a whole lot of spare ligaments lying around, Jobe began by harvesting a
healthy tendon. In most cases the tendon is harvested from the forearm of the patient, one
attached to the palmaris longus muscle. This tendon is not crucial for anatomical
function, and in fact, 15% of people do not have the tendon. To see your palmaris longus
tendon, look at the palm-side of your forearm. Touch your thumb and little finger and then
make as much of a fist as possible. 85% of you should be able to see this tendon running
down your arm.

San Francisco Giants team orthopedist Ken Akizuki reports that when the palmaris longus
tendon is unavailable, the surgeon will often use the plantaris tendon in the ankle or a
small part of the hamstring tendon in the leg. Usually this tendon will be harvested from
the leg that is not used as the plant foot in the pitcher's delivery. The removal of
either of these tendons has a negligible effect on function.

Then, the surgeon opens up the elbow. In the original procedure, Frank Jobe used a large
incision to get exposure to the joint. For an idea of the size of this incision, hold your
right arm out from your body with your palm pointed upwards. With your other hand, feel
along the inside of the elbow until you can find what feels like a hard round nub. That's
the proximal end of your ulna bone. The incision would have taken place along the inside
of the arm, beginning several inches above the elbow and ending several inches below.
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